Thirty Years at the Inn of the Last Home: Celebrating Dragonlance

Margaret Weis, Tracy Hickman, Laura Hickman, and Larry Elmore at the 2014 Salt Lake Comic Con. Photo courtesy of Margaret Weis.
Margaret Weis, Tracy Hickman, Laura Hickman, and Larry Elmore at the 2014 Salt Lake Comic Con. Photo courtesy of Margaret Weis.

This past weekend I spent the vastly better part of three days at the truly outrageous 2014 Salt Lake Comic Con (more on that in another post) and one of the highlights, for me, was the Dragonlance 30th Anniversary Celebration panel, featuring Tracy and Laura Hickman, Margaret Weis, and artist Larry Elmore.

Along with a couple hundred other guests, I was treated to stories about the genesis and development of Dragonlance, a series of gaming modules and fantasy novels first published in the mid-1980s that became one of the most popular shared world settings of all time.  Tracy and Laura provided the show and tell, sharing their original draft of the gaming modules, TSR press releases and calendars, and collection of published manuals, while all four guests contributed to an awesome historical slideshow that featured an impressive array of questionable ’80s fashion, some awesome Dragonlance art, and a rare glimpse into the working environment that produced both Dungeons & Dragons and the Dragonlance franchise.

Much has been written about the world of Krynn, especially this past year as various events and outlets marked the 30th anniversary of the publication of Dragons of Autumn Twilight, the first book in the Dragonlance Chronicles (which also happened to be the first full-length novel from TSR.)  Dragonlance history, critiques and praise of the gaming modules and novels, the trials and travails of TSR have all been covered, and I’ve taken the opportunity to indulge my nostalgia by re-watching the tangentially-related 1983 Saturday morning Dungeons & Dragons cartoon (which, to be honest, I watch all the time, especially now that my daughter is into it) and paging through some of the Dragonlance art books and graphic novels I collected back in the day. I’m kind of a Dragonlance nerd, so I find all this history fascinating (and if you do too I highly recommend checking out the Dragonlance pieces at A.V. Club, Tor.com, and io9.com for more great discussion.)  One thing I haven’t done is re-read the novels themselves, but that’s only because I just read them.  I do that every couple years.

One unusual thing about Dragonlance, for me, is how I came to it, and the fact that I remember so precisely how and why and when it happened.  I was a sophomore in high school and had stayed up late finishing Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath the night before, to get it out of the way for English class.  I forgot to grab a new book to take to class, but since I’d lucked into the best of all locker locations that year and was drop-central for all my friends, I had a locker full of other people’s reading material to choose from.  I grabbed the book on top, a thick paperback that belonged to my friend Will, and ran to class.

dawningnighttwilightI was only about five minutes into free reading time when I realized I had no idea what was going on in this book, something called War of the Twins, by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman.  Oh.  Book Two.  Right.  I kept reading.  It was clear that I was missing a great deal of backstory and motivation, but it was…compelling.  I couldn’t stop reading.  I made it halfway through that book before my compulsion for reading things in order, together with the mounting dread I felt at the thought of Missing Something in the text, forced me to confront Will and demand book one.  Turns out I had to back up even further because I’d started in on book two of the second trilogy, Dragonlance Legends, a crime so heinous (at least to my obsessive mind) as to be unthinkable.  (Non fantasy readers are groaning here, I know!) Will gave me book one of the Dragonlance Chronicles, Dragons of Autumn Twilight and I tore through the series as fast as I could, at first anxious to get back to the story I’d left halfway through, but increasingly anxious just to find out What Happened Next.

time war testThe Dragonlance books were the first to be labeled unequivocally “Fantasy” in my head, and they’re what turned me into a Fantasy Reader, with caps, despite the fact that I’d been reading things like Dune (more than once) and Earthsea and Robin McKinley and Mary Stewart and a whole bunch of other genre books and existing on a steady diet of juvenile fantasy before that.  I couldn’t bring myself to read any of the books not written by Weis and Hickman because I didn’t think of them as gaming books or shared world, I thought of them as novels and I demanded authenticity despite the tie-in, franchise-y reality.  I never played through the game modules either, though I played a ton of D&D in high school.  Dragonlance lived in a separate part of my mind, a part reserved for the books that mattered most.

I loved those books.  I love those books.  Tanis, Laurana, Sturm, Raistlin and Caramon, Flint, Tas, Kitiara, Tika, Goldmoon, Riverwind, and Fizban…those characters live on in my head, just as vividly as other old friends rendered in arguably superior prose, tighter storytelling, whatever.  I don’t care. Those characters, that story–I love Dragonlance with a love that is irrational, timeless, and awesome.  I can quote parts of these books (and not just “Sturms sun shattered,” which is guaranteed to be remembered by–and instantly destroy–all Dragonlance fans) and do, and if I think too hard about Sturm, or Bupu, or Raistlin and Caramon I can make myself teary from memory.  I love these books because they turned me, in large part, into the reader I am today, but also just because I love them, truly, madly, deeply, without judgement or expectation.  As  Jason Heller explains in his A.V. Club piece, Dragonlance may appear somewhat cliched, full of been-there-done-that, but

…[the] details are rich, and they work. There’s a cohesive, stick-to-your-ribs quality to Krynn that compensates for its flagrant lack of originality. This was, after all, a book based on an existing intellectual property and D&D borrowed heavily from other sources in the first place, up to and including…Tolkein, Leiber, and Moorcock. [But] what could have been an echo chamber of tired tropes becomes an amplification of them.

Some of my Dragonlance books...
Some of my Dragonlance books.

I’ve read Tolkein, Leiber, and Moorcock, along with a whole bunch of other books that came before and after Dragonlance and I can be as critical as anyone when it comes to prose and plot and pacing and all the rest.  But in this case it just doesn’t matter.  As Raistlin says at the end of Dragons of Spring Dawning, and at the risk of sounding unbelievably cheesy, Dragonlance feels like home to me, and the fact that these books have such a hold on my hyper-critical post-Printz Award psyche is true testament to their unique qualities, I think.  There’s no cynicism or pretension at the Inn of the Last Home, there’s no fancy pyrotechnics or meta-anything; there’s just earnestness, hope, and good storytelling, and that’s why, 30 years later, I’m still adventuring with Tanis and the rest of the Companions and why I expect I’ll be doing so in another 30 years.

–Julie Bartel, currently reading Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future by A.S. King

2 thoughts on “Thirty Years at the Inn of the Last Home: Celebrating Dragonlance”

  1. Absolutely great article. I’m agree and you have made me smile and remember a lot, but that we want to know is when someone thinks Dragonlance relaunch with new books.

    Dragonlance has been abandoned for too long.

  2. Great article, nicely written. Dragonlance is my first and major addiction, when it came to fantasy. It still takes up pride of place on my bookshelf – having spent AGES crawling through eBay, looking for those couple of books I didn’t have yet… I can’t wait until my kids are old enough to get them hooked!

    Hooray for 30 years!

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